Congress cleared a year-end spending deal Friday, December 18 and the budget plan is a big win for elephants.
Previous versions of the bill were laced with potentially disastrous consequences for animals, including a provision that would have blocked efforts to crack down on the illegal ivory trade in the United States. Demand for ivory has led to an elephant poaching crisis, with more than 100 elephants killed for their tusks every day. Africa has already lost 60 percent of its wild elephants and if this rate continues, the species is expected to go extinct within the next 10 years. President Barack Obama’s administration previously unveiled a set of efforts designed to restrict ivory trade in the U.S., which is the second-largest retail market for illegal ivory behind only China, where ivory fetches up to $3,000 per kilo.
Backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), a former rider in the omnibus budget would have prevented stronger regulations on ivory imports, exports, and commercial sale of ivory goods. It also included more than a dozen provisions to the Endangered Species Act that would have removed protections for threatened and endangered species including gray wolves.
You see, if you’re a Congressperson with loyalty to a powerful special interest group, such as the NRA, the omnibus budget provides a perfect opportunity to slip in something unsavory that would benefit the organization (or the organization’s leaders) into U.S. law. At well over a thousand pages long, it’s fairly easy to sneak things in, and if it isn’t passed, the government shuts down – let’s not do that again, guys. That means that the NRA, which has some major players who love killing endangered animals so much, that one of their lead lobbyists once shot down a bull elephant on television, can have a catastrophic influence on conservation efforts while going seemingly unnoticed.
Huge steps forward have been made to protect elephants in recent years, including a set of tougher laws prohibiting the sale of items containing ivory, unless the seller could provide proof that the item is more than 100 years old. However, the NRA has fought back by claiming such legislation is an attack on gun owners who wish to sell their guns since some firearms contain ornamental ivory. In fact, hidden in the last line of the Lawful Ivory Protection bills that were introduced last year, which aim to allow gun owners to continue to sell their ivory-decorated firearms, sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), was a clause that would still protect Americans who legally kill elephants for sport.
Fortunately, riders to further block efforts that crack down on ivory imports, exports and commercial sales were not included in the latest omnibus budget, making way for FWS’ Office of Law Enforcement to take a stronger stand against ivory trafficking.
“The final omnibus bill rejects all of the new riders designed to undermine the Endangered Species Act and our nation’s commitment to wildlife and wildlands. These riders were part of one of the worst congressional attacks we’ve ever seen on endangered wildlife and the Endangered Species Act. Keeping these out of the omnibus bill is a major victory for wildlife. We commend our champions in Congress, the Department of the Interior and the Obama administration who successfully fended off this assault,” Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark said in a press release.
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